‘Keep it fresh’

Renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra comes to Chico

THE BIG BAND <br> Wynton Marsalis is not only the band leader, but also the artistic director for jazz programming at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Wynton Marsalis is not only the band leader, but also the artistic director for jazz programming at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Photo courtesy of Jazz at Lincoln Center

Chico Performances presents the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Friday, Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m., in Laxson Auditorium.

It came as no surprise that Wynton Marsalis, one of the most famous jazz musicians on the planet, was just too darned busy for an interview in advance of his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s upcoming appearance at Chico State (Friday, Sept. 18, the kick-off performance of the Chico World Music Festival). Not only did Marsalis have a deadline to meet for a commission, but he also was performing at Walter Cronkite’s memorial service, his publicist explained.

Enter Ted Nash, 50-year-old multi-instrumentalist (sax, clarinet, flute), member of the JALC Orchestra, son of jazz trombonist Dick Nash and nephew of jazz reedman Ted Nash. Speaking by cell phone as he stepped off the New York subway on his way to the U. S. Open recently, Nash figured it was the California tie-in (Nash is from Los Angeles, and has two daughters who live in Grass Valley) and the fact that he, as a composer, “contributes a lot of music to the orchestra” that made him the go-to man to be interviewed in Marsalis’ stead.

“He can’t do everything, obviously,” said Nash, just a touch protectively perhaps, of the man whose jazz orchestra he has played in for the past 11 years.

Marsalis is arguably the most recognizable name in modern jazz. In addition, the New Orleans-born, Juilliard-trained musician is an accomplished classical player, who in 1983 won Grammys in both the jazz and classical categories—the first recording artist ever to do so. Yet, despite his broad popularity, he has been blasted by some critics for his classicist view of jazz—focusing on pre-1965 jazz performers such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, and being on record as dismissing late-1960s avant-garde jazz as “outside of jazz,” and the fusion era of the 1970s as “barren.”

Nash’s respect for Marsalis was obvious, as was his desire to point out that—contrary to the reputation Marsalis has earned in some circles as a staunch, even stodgy, traditionalist—the music of the JALC Orchestra possesses “an energy that’s modern.”

The year after Nash joined the band, he related, “we did all Duke Ellington music. I thought, ‘Oh no, it’s a repertory band. We’re gonna play old stuff all the time.’ I discovered that Ellington’s 1,500 pieces are so deep, so modern. When music is deeply, honestly played, it sounds modern.”

But also, Nash pointed out, “a lot of what we play was written in the last five years, by Wynton, or me, or [trombonist] Vincent Gardner.”

Nash recalled doing a themed concert with the JALC Orchestra last year called “Nursery Rhyme Swing” for which Marsalis asked “seven or eight guys to each write one or two pieces of music.”

“Carlos Enriquez, who plays bass, wrote his first big-band arrangement,” said Nash, “of ‘Brahm’s Lullaby.’ And drummer Ali Jackson also wrote his first, [an arrangement] of ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ [made famous by Kermit the Frog]. It was a beautiful arrangement. … Wynton discovered there was a lot of talent in the band that was hiding out.

“In the last two or three years, the band’s direction is starting to find a voice that’s really personal,” Nash said. “That makes it particularly exciting for me. I wish more people recognized that. People have a prejudice that it’s a repertory band, and it’s dealing with old music.”

The group’s Laxson concert is part of its “Best of” tour.

“It doesn’t have a real theme,” said Nash. Marsalis will pick the tunes the day of the Chico show right after the sound check. One possibility is the “Jackson Pollock” movement of Nash’s composition “Portrait in Seven Shades,” said Nash, when informed that the famous painter had lived in Chico for a time.

“A lot of people walk away from our concerts saying, ‘I didn’t realize you guys were doing such adventuresome, risk-taking music,’ ” offered Nash. “We have a responsibility to make sure that we keep it fresh.”